Afghan bombing kills 1, injures 14

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A bomb exploded Saturday outside the provincial governor's office in the Afghan city of Kandahar, killing one policeman and wounding at least 14 civilians, officials said.

The attack reflects deteriorating security in the largest city in the country's volatile south — also the Taliban's spiritual home — where NATO is preparing for a major operation seen as key to combating the insurgency. Gov. Tooryalai Wesa was not in his office at the time.

The bombing also comes a day after a national peace conference in Kabul boosted President Hamid Karzai's plans to seek negotiations with the Taliban in a bid to end the nearly nine-year war.

Kandahar city police Chief Sardar Mohammad Zazai said the explosives were strapped to a bicycle on the street outside the compound where the governor lives and works.

The governor's spokesman, Zulmai Ayubi, said the 14 wounded included five children. Among the wounded, four were in critical condition, he said.

"The explosion happened in front of us," said witness Suliman Shah. "I heard it and also saw one person get blown backward, out of the back of his vehicle."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, but Taliban militants are the most likely suspects.

The hard-line Islamist movement, ousted from power in 2001 but now a formidable militant force, says it will keep fighting. Its leaders say no talks are possible until foreign troops withdraw from the country — a step Karzai cannot afford with the insurgency raging. U.S. officials contend the Taliban leaders feel they have little reason to negotiate because they believe they are winning the war.

Karzai, who organized the conference that ended Friday, clearly got what he wanted from it: a mandate for his peace efforts and his government months after winning an election tainted by fraud. It also represented the first major public debate in Afghanistan on how to end the war amid widespread belief here that the insurgency cannot be defeated militarily.